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Initial presentations of multiple sclerosis: understanding pathways to diagnosis

   Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

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  Dr R Dobson, Prof Suzanne Scott  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


are invited from graduates with a BSc (First or Upper Second) or MSc

(Distinction), or equivalent, to work within the Centre for Prevention,

Detection and Diagnosis at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health (

This 3 or 4 year studentship, with potential for an incorporated MSc, will

commence in September 2023. This is an exciting opportunity for a graduate from disciplines related to psychology, public health, or social/biomedical sciences.

Project description


This is a London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership (LISS DTP) Collaborative Studentship in which the student will enhance their training by working closely with a non-academic partner (MS Society, in the development of their research project.

Background: This PhD aims to better understand how people subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience their initial symptoms and present to primary care. This will be studied from the patient perspective, before using large healthcare datasets to examine and understand the similarities and differences between patient experiences and documented diagnoses.

People with MS experience a variety of symptoms before they are diagnosed, and large studies from the UK and overseas have shown that they have more appointments with GPs and other healthcare providers for some years before they are formally diagnosed. However, it remains unknown how people subsequently diagnosed with MS make decisions about how and when to seek medical care at the earliest stage of their disease journey. Potential barriers that different people with MS face will be explored, enabling an understanding of the impact of social determinants of health on pathways to MS diagnosis within a uniquely diverse and deprived population. Linked healthcare datasets will then be used to explore how these symptoms and experiences are recorded.

This studentship includes collaboration with the MS Society throughout the PhD. During their final year, the student will complete a funded internship with the MS Society in order to ensure policy impact from their findings.

Research aims:

This PhD project will address 4 main research questions:

1.    When do people with MS perceive their symptoms to have started; how do they interact with healthcare professionals at this time?

2.    What barriers do people face in terms of onward referral from primary care?

3.    How are these symptoms recorded in primary care records; does this reflect peoples experience?

4.    Do large, diverse primary care datasets reflect the experience of people subsequently diagnosed with MS?

Method: In-depth qualitative interviews will provide a detailed account of the patient perspective, followed by a survey of a larger cohort enabling comparisons between different socio-demographic groups. The student will then examine large healthcare datasets in order to understand how symptoms are represented in patient records.

Broad timelines:

Year 1: Ethical approval and start of qualitative data collection

Year 2: Qualitative interviews completed and analysed; Identification of cohort for survey work and roll out of survey with development of data capture tool and piloting of use.

Year 3: Data analysis from patient survey and primary care records; Case-control study

About the candidate: This PhD would suit a candidate with a background in psychology, public health, social and/or biomedical sciences, with a particular interest in developing policy and research impact. Where candidates do not hold an MSc they will be funded for a 1 year MSc in Global Public Health and Policy at QMUL for the first year of the studentship. Where students hold an MSc, in order to register for a 3 year PhD they should have covered at least three of the four major ESRC core research methods areas - social theory, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, and research design – in level 7 (Master’s) modules. 

The successful candidate will be keen to undertake interdisciplinary work.

Informal enquiries can be made via email to Dr Ruth Dobson [Email Address Removed] or Prof Suzanne Scott [Email Address Removed]

How to apply

Your application should consist of a CV and contact details of two academic referees. You must also include a personal statement (500 words maximum) describing your suitability for the selected project including how your research experience and interests relate to the project.

Please submit your application to: Patrick Mullan ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

This 3-4 year PhD studentship is funded by the ESRC via the London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership. It comes with a tax-free stipend of £19,668 covering either 4 years incorporating an MSc, or 3 years for PhD only students. It is open to UK Nationals and students with indefinite leave to remain in the UK. University tuition fees (at UK/EU levels) will be met by the funding body.

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